PNP goes after Teves guns in Negros raids
Agents of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police raided three properties of Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. on Friday, later announcing the seizure of several firearms and assorted ammunition.
It was the latest action taken by authorities this week against the lawmaker, who is being linked to the March 4 assassination of the provincial governor, Roel Degamo. The raids, however, were said to be in connection with a complaint filed on Tuesday accusing him of ordering a series of murders in the province in 2019.
The 5 a.m. raid on two houses belonging to the congressman in Barangay Malabugas, Bayawan City, and on a resort also said to be in Teves’ name in Barangay Poblacion, Basay town, led to the confiscation of a hand grenade, a .45-caliber pistol and magazine, two .40-caliber pistols and magazines, a rifle scope and other weapons. A photo later released by the CIDG showed the operatives making an inventory of the firearms that included several assault rifles.
Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos clarified that the operation was not related to the killing of Degamo, Teves’ political rival, but to the 2019 murders of Miguel Dungog, a provincial board member, and of Lester Pialgo Bato and Pacito Libron.
The PNP earlier secured a search warrant from Branch 83 of the Mandaue City Regional Trial Court in Cebu province to conduct Friday’s raids.
Abalos told dzBB that the warrant covered five properties, but not all belonged to Teves.
He also said the seized weapons had “spurious documents” and that “(Teves) should not have the right to carry firearms in the first place. That’s illegal.” Abalos recalled the revocation of the lawmaker’s firearms license in January after the Firearms and Explosives Office of the PNP found the documents lacking when Teves applied for a license renewal.
In separate interviews with dzBB and ANC, Teves’ lawyer Ferdinand Topacio questioned the “quite irregular” police operation on Friday.
“We have not been informed of any charges, we have not received any subpoena. We will just respond to that,” he said.
Joint task force
“But I am confident that Congressman Teves will be exonerated, if only for the simple fact that he is innocent of these charges,” Topacio added.
Meanwhile, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has ordered the formation of a joint military and police task force to pursue the remaining 12 suspects in Degamo’s murder.
Of the 17 suspects whom police say are involved in the governor’s killing, four are now in the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation, while a fifth, who has yet to be identified, was killed during a manhunt immediately following the murder.
Defense Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said the President has formed Joint Task Force (JTF) Negros to step up the current joint operations of the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Negros Oriental.
The task force will be composed of two brigades and six battalions, as well as 50 members of the Light Reaction Regiment, the elite counterterrorist unit of the Philippine Army that was also deployed in the Marawi siege in 2017.
“President Marcos gave his instruction to me last night to suppress the criminal activities and impunity in the entire island of Negros, and to give justice to the families and loved ones of those who were slain in the assassination of Gov. Roel Degamo, and restore normalcy and confidence of the people there,” Galvez said at a press conference at Camp Aguinaldo.
According to AFP chief Gen. Andres Centino, the JTF will be headed by Brig. Gen. Marion Sison, the commander of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. He will be assisted by Brig. Gen. Leo Peña and Col. Orlando Edralin, heads of the 302nd and 303rd Infantry Brigades.
Centino assured residents of Negros Oriental the presence of more soldiers in the province would be “to ensure peace in the area, and assuage the fears and anxiety of the people there, that everything is under control.”
There would be no curfew or restrictions on movements for the residents, although there would be a “little inconvenience for motorists” because of more checkpoints, Centino said.
Turning state witnesses
Also on Friday, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the four suspects in the government’s custody—Joven Javier, Joric Labrador, Osmundo Rivero and Benjie Rodriguez—will be placed under the Witness Protection Program to ensure their complete cooperation in the investigation.
Teves has yet to be charged with Degamo’s murder, but the four have been charged with illegal possession of firearms as well as murder and frustrated murder.
Remulla said the suspects will be accorded the “maximum benefits” of the witness protection program, including “humanitarian assistance.”
“I gave the instructions to assist the families of the suspects ….We have to give a little comfort zone [to those] who are charged with the crime and hopefully that will soften them up to reveal more facts on the case,” the justice chief told reporters in an ambush interview.
“[W]e want the case to proceed faster. If they’re more free to confess and tell the truth, that’s better.” he added.
According to Remulla, Labrador and Rodriguez have admitted their involvement in the assassination and even claimed they were acting on orders of “Congressman Teves.”
But he did not provide further details as to which Teves the two suspects were referring to, other than to say that they were still being questioned by the NBI.
Teves’ older brother Pryde Henry had also served as congressman for three terms from 2007-2016.
Degamo replaced Pryde Henry in October last year after the Commission on Elections nullified the older Teves’ proclamation in May as Negros Oriental governor.
Meanwhile, Arnolfo is still in the United States and has been urged to return home to face the allegations against him in connection with Degamo’s murder.
Remulla also said the DOJ is investigating 10 more past incidents of political violence in Negros Oriental, apart from the murders in 2019.